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the wire review of ( )

arriving unnamed, icelandic group sigur ros's third album is instead represented by the graphic ( ). the latter's bracketed nothingness possibly implies a portal or an exit, which would make the entire record into a jumping off point for elsewhere. but gaze into it long enough, way beyond the initial snow blindness that sigur ros records always bring on, and it begins to assume the power of a scrying mirror in the mode of the obsidian oval owned by the elizabethan magus john dee. like dee's glass, you can lose yourself in ( ) for days soaking in the suggestive play of its shadows.

like coil, sigur ros have always made ceremonial music. coil first used the idea of a transportive oval on the b-side of their how to destroy angels 12" and their time machines album. coincidentally, they have just played alongside the icelandic quartet at london's royal festival hall. but whereas coil were most concerned with rituals that hyper-sexualised, recolonised and made a sacrament of the entire body, sigur ros were all about leaving the body behind, exiting rather than entering the third eye, drifting on an ethereal umbilical to the heavenly roar of strings dancing beneath e-bows, slow drones and castrato vocals. still, ( ) feels much more immediately physical than their last few entries (exits?) and for the first time there's a locatable live band at the centre of each track. there are no titles, as if ( ) is to be seen more as a series of gradated movements rather than distinct 'songs' but the first track sounds most like a sad postscript, the aftermath of a vision that's left everything seeming tawdry and dead in comparison. vocalist jonsi thor birgisson repeatedly sings "you saw the light", it appears, frosting the simple piano part that holds the track together and letting his breath hang in smoke in front of him before inverting the phrase and breathing it slowly back in.

other tracks take the blueprint of tim buckley's starsailor further out with guitarist kjartan sveinsson taking on the shadowy role of lee underwood, loosing bubbling little notes that float weightlessly away and there are sections that sound so disorientating and psychedelic that they could almost be japanese. the later tracks provide some of the biggest revelations, the closer in particular with its pounding drums, martial guitars and blurred vocals sounding like a final reclamation of led zepellin's cartoon valhalla. throughout a background drone repeatedly surfaces, like it's the inspired chatter of children speaking in tongues. it erupts again halfway through track four, as the group work through a processional that sounds like joy division augmented by banks of canterbury-styled keyboards. as the whole group come to a slow-motion stop, vocalist birgisson is left suspended in mid-air, before finally crashing to earth with a wordless gasp. maybe ( ) was just an empty set of brackets after all.

(david keenan )



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